Friday, 26 May 2000
FLASH!! PHYSICIST FRANCIS SLAKEY REACHES THE TOP OF THE WORLD.
May 24, at 10:51 a.m. Nepal time, Slakey, a member of the What's
New team, joined two other members of an environmental expedition
at the Everest summit. "Slake" inspires much of the wit in WN.
1. NIF: RICHARDSON IS FURIOUS AS WAR BREAKS OUT BETWEEN LABS.
The cost of the humongous laser facility at Livermore is up from
a 1997 estimate of $1.2B to $2.1B. Now, the General Accounting
Office says the real cost may be $3.6B. That prompted Sandia
Labs VP Tom Hunter to issue a statement warning that delays and
cost overruns will "disrupt the investment needed at the other
[weapons] labs by several years." Energy Secretary Richardson
exploded: "Mr. Hunter's views will be totally disregarded." Like
ballistic missiles, press releases can't be called back, but
Sandia's Director, Paul Robinson, says they're sorry: "We regret
Sandia's inadvertent action in releasing an internal document."
An accompanying note states: "Sandia plans no further public
comment, and no Sandia official is available to elaborate on it."
2. DOE: NOMINEE TO HEAD SCIENCE OFFICE TELLS IT LIKE IT IS.
In her confirmation hearing, Mildred Dresselhaus warned the Senate
Energy Committee against overreaction to spy scares: "The defense
labs must have contact with the rest of the world." And she took
exception to a call by Sen. Murkowski (R-AK) for "benchmarking"
basic research projects. Dresselhaus patiently explained that
you can't set a schedule for basic discoveries. MIT Institute
Professor of physics and electrical engineering, Dresselhaus was
President of the American Physical Society in 1984.
3. HELIUM: THE IMPACT OF SELLING THE HELIUM RESERVE.
Helium Privatization Act ordered the Interior Department to begin
liquidating the Federal Helium Reserve by 2005. However, an
amendment added at the urging of the APS, called for the National
Academy of Sciences to study the consequences first. On Tuesday,
an NRC panel convened to examine the impact, released its long-
awaited report. The finding: "The committee believes that the
Helium Privatization Act of 1996 will not have a significant
impact on helium users." Ever? Well, not over the next two
decades anyway. One reason is the pricing formula, set at the
urging of the helium producers, which comes out about 25% above
the current commercial price. Nobody's going to buy the stuff in
the Reserve until the cost of extracting it from natural gas goes
up as the major fields are depleted. But that day is coming, and
physicists, who tend to view helium with a certain reverence, may
not feel reassured by this report. A
1995 statement by the APS Council
actually calls for enhancing the helium reserves.
4. STAR WARS: BUSH WANTS A MUCH LARGER MISSILE DEFENSE PROGRAM.
And a much smaller nuclear arsenal. More next week.